Curtis Nowosad – Dialectics [TrackList follows] – Cellar Live CL010115, 48:05 [3/17/15] ****:
(Curtis Nowosad – drums, producer; Jimmy Greene – tenor and soprano saxophone; Derrick Gardner – trumpet; Steve Kirby – acoustic bass; Will Bonness – piano)
Don’t be put off by the title of drummer Curtis Nowosad’s sophomore release, Dialectics. This is not a philosophical jazz record filled with academically unemotional discourse. For anyone not acquainted with the dialectical method, it is a dialogue between two or more people with different points of view on a given subject, who intend to ascertain the truth of the subject matter, and who are guided by reason (i.e., logical ways). What Nowosad and his studio quintet focus on is not reasoned discussion, but rather what the CD liner notes call neo-hard bop. The connection here is dialogue. Nowosad and his group create a compelling musical conversation which combines classic 1950s and 1960s jazz (think of the Blue Note label as an example) with more elements: more vamps, more interludes, more technique and engagement.
New York-based Nowosad, originally from Canada, has played with several of his bandmates in other settings, thus everyone is very proficient with each other and offer a high degree of communal communication. Alongside Nowosad is Jimmy Greene (tenor and soprano sax), who worked with Nowosad at the Univ. of Manitoba; trumpeter Derrick Gardner (who is currently teaching at the Univ. of Manitoba; his credits include Ron Di Salvio, Rufus Reid and more); bassist Steve Kirby (head of the Jazz Studies program at the Univ. of Manitoba; he has performed with Lester Bowie, Oliver Lake and a host of others); and pianist Will Bonness (another Univ. of Manitoba instructor, who has also recorded with Kirby).
The bop influences are illustrated throughout, but this isn’t a nostalgic trip through jazz history. Those who appreciate Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Jackie McLean and so on will thoroughly enjoy these nine compositions (six by Nowosad and three likeminded covers), but there’s more here than mirroring the past. The quintet opens with something familiar, as a means to whet the listener’s appetite: Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil” (from his 1964 LP of the same name). This nearly six-minute rendering has an energetic, harmonized horn line; a forcefully-arranged format which nevertheless affords room for extended soloing; and exhibits the ensemble’s tight interaction, which is visually revealed during an in-studio video of “Speak No Evil.” Later, Nowosad paces the band through an Afro-Cuban curve on Thelonious Monk’s “Bye-Ya” (found on Monk’s 1963 LP, Monk’s Dream). Like the other cuts, there is capacious allotment for interesting solos and asides, notably Nowosad’s percussive effects, the trumpet/sax combo, and Bonness’ irresistible comping. The CD concludes with the third translation, a mostly straightforward, solid-swinging rendition of the standard “I Remember You,” a 1940s pop hit subsequently redone by Chet Baker, Tal Farlow, Lee Konitz, et al.
The meat of the album, though, is Nowosad’s six originals. As good as he and his band are at reinterpretation, they are superb at bringing Nowosad’s music to life. The bluesy “A Casual Test” is a highlight. Nowosad explains in his liner notes, “A couple of years ago, I set out to compose a blues in every key, major and minor (24 in total). This one, incidentally one of the simplest, is still my favorite.” Gardner, Greene and Bonness all improvise on the melodic line, but demonstrate they can conceive distinctive mini-stories even when utilizing the same narrative foundation. The expansive, eight-minute title track has a funk-inflected undertow: a groove which is infectious but not overdone. Nowosad calls this number “hexatonically-inspired,” thus it has a scale with six pitches or notes per octave. There is a dynamic gain and release which permeates “Dialectics,” and again, Greene, Gardner and Bonness take the reins and push the music into the stratosphere. This tune is worth hearing several times to follow all of the subtle nuances and exchanges: a shorter version with a different line-up, done for a loft session, has a slight variation on the same material. This session isn’t all blowing and bopping, though. While upbeat tracks such as “Empirically Speaking” and “159 & St. Nick” represent the concept of neo-hard bop, Nowosad displays a talent for ballads on the searching “Reconciliation,” which he states has some echoes of Silver’s “Peace.” It’s a beautiful piece with a lyrical piano intro and equally stirring trumpet and sax. Throughout the album’s 48-minutes, Dialectics is a winner, no debate about that. Nowosad, Greene, Gardner, Kirby and Bonness have an excellent time, produce musical empathy of the highest order, and musical fellowship which prevails. While this particular group configuration probably won’t be together again, here’s hoping Nowosad can use these core essentials and generate more auditory alchemy.
TrackList: Speak No Evil; Empirically Speaking; Dialectics; 159 & St. Nick; Casual Test; Reconcilation; Bye-Ya; Gleaning & Dreaming; I Remember You.